Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, August 31, 1999

L.A. Bishop, Priest Quit National Gay Ministry Group

Resignations follow Vatican's disciplinary action against two ministers to homosexuals.

By LARRY B. STAMMER, Times Religion Writer

Los Angeles Roman Catholic bishop and a priest have resigned from a national gay and lesbian ministries association in the aftermath of disciplinary action by the Vatican against two East Coast Catholic ministers to homosexuals.

The Most Rev. Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, and Father Peter Liuzzi, director of the Los Angeles archdiocese's gay and lesbian ministry, confirmed Monday that they had resigned from the the Oakland-based National Assn. of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries.

Although both clerics offered different reasons for their decisions, the moves were viewed Monday as the first sign that Catholic gay and lesbian ministries are becoming far more cautious in how they serve, in view of stepped-up Vatican oversight.

Over the last decade, the Vatican increasingly has tightened controls over how the church reaches out to homosexuals. It has long forbade theologians from teaching in Catholic universities that do not conform to the church's full teaching on issues of human sexuality.

But the issue dramatically escalated last month when the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, permanently barred Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent from any homosexual ministries in the Maryland-Washington area. The two were prohibited not on grounds that they publicly challenged the church as some banned theologians had done, but because they had failed to communicate the church's full teaching.

The church holds that a homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered" and that homosexual acts are "intrinsically evil." At the same time, the church condemns "violent malice in speech or in action" against homosexuals and said that the church's teaching cannot be used to justify "bigotry in any form."

Credibility at issue

Zavala and Liuzzi said their resignations were their own ideas and were not suggested by others. Zavala said he resigned from the organization because of the press of other obligations, including his chairmanship of Encuentro 2000, a national Catholic gathering planned next July in Los Angeles to celebrate cultural diversity in the church. In his two years as bishop moderator of the gay and lesbian ministries association, Zavala said he had managed to attend only one meeting.

But Zavala and Liuzzi said others involved in the national association had at times departed from the church's full teaching on issues of homosexuality--the very issue that led to the sanctions against Gramick and Nugent.

Zavala said he was vaguely aware of philosophical differences within the national group with the church's teaching but couldn't say how serious they were. "I would say that, obviously, as a bishop I would need to support the full teachings of the church, because I believe in them. But it had not come to that point in my mind," he said.

Liuzzi, a founding board member, said the church investigation leading up to the disciplinary action against Gramick and Nugent was a factor in his resignation. Equally significant, he said, he worried that as membership in the 6-year-old association expanded to include not only representatives of official diocesan ministries but gay rights advocates, that the church's teaching on homosexuality would become muddled.

"Maintaining a credible position now became a formidable task," Liuzzi said Monday. "I don't have enmity with any of those groups. But when you're confronted with hurting people, trying to be centrist, it's hard to do that. The association became an uncertain trumpet, leaving it dangerously vulnerable to the far right, anger from the far left, and leaving the middle in a quandary.

"My effectiveness in my ministry is directly attributed to my loyalty to the teachings of the church and a development of a pastoral model of ministry that is in harmony with that teaching," Liuzzi said.

But others worried that Zavala's and Liuzzi's resignations would hobble the national group--and perhaps have a ripple effect on gay and lesbian ministries elsewhere in the nation.

"If Los Angeles isn't backing [the association], hopefully there wouldn't be repercussions of having my own bishop say we should look into this," said Cathie Jarosz, an association board member and director of outreach ministries in the Monterey diocese.

John H. Good of Los Angeles, president of the board, said Liuzzi drafted a mission statement for the group, which the board accepted at a recent meeting in Chicago.

"The language made it very clear that as an association we needed to be clear about where we stand," Good said.